Bourbon Street in New Orleans is renowned for its history, nightlife and festivals. Tourists and locals alike gather at the heart of the Vieux Carré to soak in the city's charm. Crashing into the midst of this idyllic image are some uninvited guests: extreme right-wing Christian groups. These holy rollers believe in "saving" the lost souls of New Orleans by yelling hateful and discriminatory slurs against the LGBTQ community to pedestrians.
Until last year, these bigoted loons were allowed to roam freely to engage in their favourite pastimes of picketing and yelling condemnations into megaphones. It was up to the general public to ignore this hateful speech until the city of New Orleans prohibited these gatherings after dark. The act is a misdemeanor offense with six months in jail and a $500 fine. After a string of arrests during Southern Decadence, New Orleans' Gay Pride Parade, Pastor Paul Gos has filed a federal lawsuit against the mayor, police superintendent and city council members.
Southern Decadence. Photo courtesy of nola.com
On May 15, Gos, his wife and some friends were planning on spreading their hate campaign on Bourbon Street when police arrived. The officers asked the group to leave or they would be arrested. Gos claims this ordinance infringes on his freedom of speech; the city argues that it is a public safety measure to help with crowd control.
Calling this law an infringement on freedom of speech is absurd. Clearly, one person's freedom of speech shouldn't supersede another person's right to be who they are. If an individual is spewing discriminatory filth against an individual or group, it is no longer a question of freedom of speech: it is harassment. The Klu Klux Klan isn't allowed to congregate on Bourbon Street to spread their racist message, so why should homophobic religious nuts be given permission?
I firmly believe that this ordinance is a public safety measure and not an attempt to gag religious leaders. It is only in effect at night; people are screaming at the top of their lungs on megaphones at all hours of the night disturbing the French Quarter's residents. It is the city's responsibility to protect the community's interests first and ensure them a peaceful night sleep from hate speeches.
Kait Bolongaro writes about culture, feminism, and pushing boundaries. She is a Masters student studying Journalism and Media Across Cultures in Denmark. She is a freelance journalist and photographer who is addicted to traveling and developing new stories. To follow her on her journeys, check out her website or follow her on twitter.